YOU don’t encounter too many industry captains like him. "I have the best job in the world, don’t I?
"I really do. I own Scotland’s most beautiful distillery, it makes the best whisky you can get. I have a very happy and motivated sales team. And I live in Scotland."
To be more specific, Len Russell, managing director of Ian Macleod Distillers, lives just four miles from his workplace, purpose-built on an industrial estate at Broxburn.
"It takes me 12 minutes to drive to work, unless I’m going to Taiwan, where I’ll be next week," he offers.
He is given to flying the flag, if at times a tad too vigorously for the competition. But it is, after all, an independent, essentially family company.
And his love affair with the industry is tangible. Profitable, too. An 18 million turnover last year and, Mr Russell insists as he lights another cigarette, the only way is up.
The acquisition for 10m in April last year of the Glengoyne distillery, producer of a classic single malt, close to Loch Lomond, signalled the company’s ongoing, watch-us-grow intentions.
Seemingly nothing and nobody (short of Gordon Brown) can get in the way. "There’s me and there’s my dad Peter," Mr Russell explains. "He’s chairman and I never argue with him, he’s the finest man in the industry.
"Yes, we differ from time to time but it’s never a clash as such. We back down with barely a murmur if one or other of us has to concede on a point."
Peter Russell, of indeterminate age, joined the company in 1956. His 42-year-old son joined 30 years later.
"My grandfather Leonard - born 1899 - was an Englishman married to a Scot. He worked in a bank in Kent and was bored with it until his great aunt, who owned Harpers, the wine and spirit weekly mag still publishing today, gave him a job selling ads.
"In those days, each whisky brand was family-owned . . . Haigs, Teachers and the like, so Harpers sent him up here. Most whisky executives worked in Glasgow but lived in Edinburgh, living in Glasgow being unthinkable.
"My grandfather could ill-afford to travel first class on the 8.30 to Glasgow every morning, the third class hard seats were more in keeping with his salary. But he wanted to mix with the big boys, so he travelled with the bowler hats. He must have been a good salesman because a year later, having amassed 10,000, he became a broker, selling whisky for companies that had a surplus.
"That was the first rung on the ladder, so to speak, towards owning Macleods. We are still the main company valuing whisky stocks for financial institutions. As for ourselves, we have 12m of whisky maturing and evaporating away - the ‘angels’ share’ as it’s known.
"Two per cent of whisky evaporates in casks in Scotland. Accordingly, I wish it was colder, so I’m one of the few people in this country against global warming."
And possibly one of countless businessmen who isn’t exactly in love with the Chancellor. "Scotland has 2 billion worth of whisky for export every year and I am appalled by Gordon Brown’s continuing discrimination against Scotch whisky when it pays a higher tax in the UK than beer or wine.
"It pays 40 per cent duty on the comparative amount of alcohol.
"The forthcoming strip stamps on whisky bottles is totally against the EU’s concept of tax harmonisation and free market economics.
"Speaking for our own company, strip stamps potentially are going to do serious damage to our cash flow and significantly increase our production costs.
"I feel badly let down by a fellow Scotsman."
Mr Russell, like his father, was educated at Edinburgh Academy.
Graduating from Edinburgh University, he got his first job in 1986 with Scottish & Newcastle, where he was interviewed at Abbey brewery by Alastair Mowat, then an S&N director and now landlord at the Doric Tavern, Market Street.
Meantime, apart from Mr Brown’s stumbling block, the company carries on in a strength-to-strength vein.
"Single malt is the most exciting sector of the sprits market," claims Mr Russell. "It’s bringing younger people into the market. Certainly the French and Spanish are drinking much more of it and, the bottom line, malt is the spirit equivalent of champagne. It’s not a binge drink.
"Here, malt is only five per cent of whisky consumption, yet it draws 20 per cent of the cash spent advertising the whisky industry."
The Russells have never lacked enterprise and while they’ve shown flair, they’ve been canny with it.
Mr Russell says: "Over the past half century, since my father joined the company, we’ve kept broking. In the 50s he supplied the whisky for Justerini & Brooks. He bought Macleods’ Isle of Skye in the 60s, for us a prestigious brand, and we now buy a brand every couple of years."
As well as Isle of Skye eight-year-old blend, the firm’s portfolio includes the Glenfarclas single malt agency, London Hill gin and Watson’s Trawler Rum.
Glengoyne is the star. "It comes from the same stable as Macallan, Highland Park and Famous Grouse. It’s the true taste of malt whisky, untainted by peat smoke, so it’s the ideal introductory malt to drink. Peaty malts are an acquired taste," claims Mr Russell.
"We sell a million cases of whisky a year," he reasons, "so it made sense to become a fully integrated distiller, blender and bottler."
While the integration, by and large, takes place on 20 acres at Broxburn, Glengoyne enjoys the hard sell.
"It’s now getting the tender love and care it required. It’s the most beautiful distillery in Scotland and whisky has been made there since it was granted a licence in 1833. An hour and ten minutes from Edinburgh and half an hour from Glasgow city centre, it attracts 35,000 visitors a year."
A major attraction for Mr Russell, as he casts a professional eye on future prospects for the industry, is China. "The Chinese have a white spirit culture. Their native equivalent to whisky is made from sorghum, a kind of wheat and probably you’d have problems with it.
"China and Taiwan, where I’ll be this month with Glengoyne, and India will come good eventually with Scotch whisky.
"You know, Scotland should be so incredibly proud of its national drink. It’s drunk around the world and is respected as a classic product. To be actively involved in making it and promoting it gives me one hell of a kick.
"Will we ever be bought out? Never! I love the whole shebang too much. If my children decide to become politicians or vets, then I would have to review the situation."
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